Have you ever heard of a pine marten? They’re an animal we get here in the UK. So what are they – birds that live in pine trees? Well, no – they’re actually mammals and are closely related to weasels, stoats and otters (though they do live in and around pine trees).
Pine martens are quite large – about half a metre in length. That’s roughly the same size as a cat. They’re brown in colour, with white ‘bibs’ of fur on their throats and bellies. Unlike their relatives, pine martens have retractable claws which allow them to climb trees. They often make their homes in hollow or fallen trees. Because of this they like to live in forested areas.
They are primarily meat-eaters and excellent hunters. Their favourite foods are birds and small rodents but they also like eggs, berries and even fungi. There are reports of them taking squirrels, with some people blaming them for the decline in red squirrel numbers. But this is actually quite rare – why chase an agile squirrel through the treetops when it’s much easier to catch a mouse or vole on the ground?
Pine martens are solitary animals who live within the bounds of their own territories. These can be as large as 30 km squared so you are unlikely ever to see more than one in the same place – unless it’s time to breed. Even young pine martens aren’t tolerated for long. They all have to leave home and make their own ways in the world when just 6 months old.
Hunters that they are, pine martens don’t sit at the top of the food chain. They are eaten by eagles and foxes but their worst predator is (you’ve guessed it) the human. They’re poisoned or shot by gamekeepers who see them as a threat. They’ve also been hunted for their fur which is soft and shiny, much like that of their relative, the mink. Things got so bad that the animal became extinct in England and Wales in the early 20th Century and became confined to the wilds of Scotland.
Hunting aside, the biggest threat to the pine marten is the fragmentation of their habitat. If their territories become separated by houses or roads then it’s much harder for the animals to breed. They became a protected species under laws introduced in 1981 but these only protect the animals and their dens – not the lands around them.
The conservation charity, Woodland Trust, is trying to reintroduce pine martens to England and Wales. I’m sure you’ll join us here at Education Quizzes in wishing them every success. It would be wonderful to see these beautiful creatures in the woods around us all over the UK.